It’s been a terrible few weeks for former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. First there was that gaffe about not loving her husband all the time (which was made mere weeks after he deployed overseas with his S.C. National Guard unit). Then Haley received some absolutely atrocious polling data in New Hampshire – a state where she has invested significant time and resources.
Just when it appeared as though Haley’s national aspirations were on life support, though, her home state has come riding to the rescue.
According to a new Fox Business poll (.pdf) released on Sunday morning, Haley was backed by 14 percent of likely Palmetto State “First in the South” presidential primary voters. That’s good enough for second place in South Carolina – putting Haley ahead of both Florida governor Ron DeSantis (13 percent) and home-state U.S. senator Tim Scott (10 percent), as well as former vice president Mike Pence (4 percent) and Ohio entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy (3 percent).
All of the candidates are distantly trailing former president Donald Trump – who leads the field by a commanding 34 percentage points. The man described by pollster Daron Shaw as “the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in this race” was backed by 48 percent of likely primary voters in South Carolina. Regular members of our audience will recall South Carolina propelled Trump to the 2016 GOP nomination over a #NeverTrump coalition which included Haley, Scott and U.S. senator Lindsey Graham.
Graham has since flip-flopped and become one of Trump’s staunchest supporters – although the state’s MAGA faithful made it clear they were not supporting him when they booed him off the stage at a recent Trump rally in Pickens, S.C.
Trump’s hold over the SCGOP – which clearly remains formidable – was so absolute during the last election the state party broke its own rules and called off the “First in the South” primary altogether. This move was made even though another former Palmetto State governor, Mark Sanford, was an announced candidate against Trump at the time.
Digging into the cross tabs (.pdf) of this survey, Trump’s lead expanded – and Haley’s position flip-flopped with DeSantis – amongst South Carolina Republicans who said they were committed to voting in the February 24, 2024 primary election. Trump has the backing of 51 percent of these definitive “First in the South” voters – well ahead of DeSantis (15 percent), Haley (11 percent) and Scott (9 percent).
Haley’s showing in South Carolina is important for two reasons. First, she’s ahead of Scott – the man who is on the move nationally and gaining traction with GOP donors eager for a new alternative to their previously designated “alternative to Trump,” a.k.a. DeSantis.
Haley also nearly doubled her 8 percent showing in the last South Carolina primary survey (.pdf), conducted between June 19-21, 2023 on behalf of American Greatness. And she leapfrogged two competitors in the process.
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If Haley is able to make a “those who know me best, like me better” argument to those donors, then she – not Scott – might emerge with momentum coming out of the “First in the South” primary.
As noted in our lede, Haley also desperately needed some positive polling numbers – somewhere – after her poor showing in New Hampshire. Unfortunately for her, on the same day Fox Business pollsters touted her improved positioning in the Palmetto State, a new survey out of Iowa (.pdf) conducted by the same number crunchers showed her in fifth place in the Hawkeye State with just 5 percent support.
In other words, Haley continues to flail in the two states where she needs solid showings if her candidacy is even going to make it home to South Carolina …
Given my personal history with Haley, I’ve done my best not to unfairly criticize her since she announced her candidacy for the American presidency. In fact, I praised her earlier in the campaign for staking out some important ideological ground on the issue of entitlement spending – something both Trump and DeSantis have failed to do (although DeSantis tacked toward Haley on this important issue recently).
Is Haley going to crack the top tier of candidates in this race? Or is her bid just an audition for the No. 2 spot in a Trump administration (perhaps with the goal of siphoning votes away from DeSantis in South Carolina)? Who knows … but the shape-shifting politician is running out of time to make her move.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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